Food Culture: Vol. I, Issue 4 – Culture Special


By Amritbir Kaur

“The preservation of health is duty. Few seem conscious that there is such a thing as physical morality.” This is what Herbert Spencer, had to say about health. The recent news that Indeed very few of us are aware and even fewer are working towards it. Little do we realize, when considered from biological point of view, that man was born to be active. He was never meant to be carrying the kind of flab he sports today or following a sedentary lifestyle or feeling short of breath after a short run. This never imagined state of things has come to haunt us because of the modern mechanized lifestyle.

It is because of the dominance of technology over our lives that the ‘Generation X’ loves everything that is fast – be it the technology, the swanky cars, the racy bikes or event the food. Out of all these the love of fast food is quite a dangerous and devastating trend. The Italians, who basically initiated the fast food culture, have decided to switch over to the ‘slow food’, after having stood witness to the damaging consequences of fast food on the health of an individual. We have not come to understand the depth of the truth stated by Ben Jonson, “O health! Health! The blessing of the rich! The riches of the poor! Who can buy thee at too dear a rate since there is no enjoying this world without thee?”

The consumption of fast food has become a fad these days. Probably the logic working behind love of such food is the greed of saving time – today the modern ‘thinking man’ is so much engrossed in his material pursuits that he doesn’t have the time for a proper meal. He simply wants to have it while he is on the go. As Andrew F. Smith (2006) has rightly pointed out, “Eating at fast food outlets and other restaurants is simply a manifestation of commodification of time.”

Although at present a large number of adults too have been swept over by the charm of consuming the fast food, yet those who are more dangerously caught in the web woven by the likes of pizzas, burgers, noodles etc. are the youngsters especially teenagers. A fact pointed out by Pollock and others (1972), that is as suitable for India, is that the “dietary practices of young people, especially girls, become increasingly worse throughout teen years. Typically they are deficient in Vitamin C and A, and lack the required quantity of Calcium and Iron. There is a pattern of inadequate breakfasting and overdependence on carbohydrates in the form of sweet foods, fried products and cola drinks.”

As if this was not enough we can now see children in the age group of around 10 – 12 months smoothly sucking in the noodles one by one and then downing them with a glass of cold drink. We often have been witness to such sights, but little do we realize the kind of foundation that is being laid down. There have been cases in the PGI, Chandigarh of children around 12 years old with weak bones. Then there was a child aged 8 years who had the problem of falling teeth (not the milk teeth but permanent ones) – the doctors diagnosed the problem to be lack of calcium.
So the point is that fast food culture is more annihilating for the youngsters because they have been exposed to it ever since their childhood, as compared to the adults, who didn’t consume it in their childhood. John Milton has rightly said, “The childhood shows the man, as morning shows the day.”

Moreover, given the demographic pattern of India we need to pay more attention to the population below 15-20 years. According to the 2001 census the age group of 0-5 years alone consists of 34.33% of the total population. The following data portrays it more clearly:

In the present day scenario, an area that demands urgent attention is the spread of diseases related to lifestyle in India like Heart Disease, Diabetes etc. A few years back a 28 year old dying of a heart attack was something unheard of but now the worst of the nightmares has turned out to be true.

Much has been talked about the causes and remedies but now is the time to act, if it’s not too late already. Health, basically, should not be taken as a very narrow term. WHO (1948) has defined health as “a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being, and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity. We need to change our approach. There is an English proverb ‘Do in Rome as Romans do’. It is the same principle that needs to be put into application while chalking out of a plan of action for orientation of the youngsters towards the consumption of an enriched diet. To generate awareness we must put to use all the resources that are being used by this techno-savvy generation. The modus operandi to be adopted should be such that they directly hit the bull’s eye. For instance the following techniques can be of great help.

These days our market is flooded with goods presented before us in an attractive packing to make them more saleable. In the same vein, to popularize the consumption of fresh fruits and vegetables we need to manipulate the things using effective marketing strategies.
For instance, projecting green leafy vegetables and fruits as low calorie food can be an instant hit with the calorie conscious adolescents. Eating healthy can be promoted by attaching it to a weight loss target – Eat healthy, avoid fast food and lose 2 kilograms in 2 weeks. The pear can be called nature’s own low calorie ‘Rasgulla’. Eating carrots can be promoted by saying something like, ‘Have clear and beautiful eyes with a carrot a day’ or ‘Eat carrots and you are saved from spectacles’. Numerous other slogans can be created – the point is to drive home the message.

Nowadays, the use of technology, especially the internet can prove to be very beneficial. This technique will be particularly helpful for the large percentage of youth, who are hooked on to the surfing of the net. The websites can display a health tip on their sites with and attractive picture of fresh and colourful fruits and vegetables. What is more important is that these days almost every college and school has a website – they too can sport a logo on their website to promote the cause of a healthy diet.

A daily feature of the newspapers that is widely read by the youngsters especially in their teens is the ‘Daily Horoscope’. We can tap this habit; what the newspaper publishers can do is publish a health forecast daily – it may be according to the star sign itself like prescribing the Virgoans to eat carrots one day, a citrus fruit like oranges another day and so on.
The newspapers instead of carrying full length articles should also publish a few instructions in the point form. There can be a tip published daily in one of the top corners of the front page of the newspaper. This format of presentation will carry the message more quickly that the lengthy articles.

The world of SMS has revolutionized the way we communicate with others. An SMS alert service should be there – the messages should be circulated by the telecom company to its subscribers. This should not be a paid service. And what is important is that only real and practical fact related to robust health should be promoted. Some misconceived notions for maintaining good health like skipping meals, having diet sugar or diet soft drinks should be outrightly discouraged.

A section called ‘Health Tip of the Day’ can be announced during morning assembly in schools and colleges. The duty of announcing the same can be allotted by the way of rotation to all the students. This will help to bring all the students into contact with health related literature.
There can be many more innovative techniques but the point is we have to speak their language. Julia C. Foster (1968) writes, “The ability to motivate adolescents to action in altering their dietary habits requires knowledge and skills. Habits will be altered only when students are convinced that such changes will help them attain a goal. The goal may be changing weight, eliminating acne or avoiding the possibility of anaemia.”
The results and efficacy of our preaching depends upon how we convey the message. It is here that our roles have to be played. We all have to play a part – remember each drop counts. Each one of us has to contribute towards making the kids aware of the benefits of living in close harmony with nature. Remember Wordsworth’s words “…Nature never did betray the heart that loved her.” Moreover:

The best six doctors anywhere
And no one can deny it
Are sunshine, water, rest and air
Exercise and diet.
These six will gladly you attend
If only you are willing
Your mind they’ll ease
Your will they mend
And charge you not a shilling

{Nursery rhyme quoted by Wayne Fields, ‘What the River Knows (1990)}

Posted in Non-Fiction and tagged , .


  1. Pingback: The Literary Jewels: Issue 4 | The Literary Jewels Magazine

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